Mental Blocks: Personal Strategies to Build Resilience as Runners.

mental block

How to Overcome Running Mental Blocks: My Personal Journey and Tips for Success

Running is as much a mental challenge as it is a physical one. If you’ve ever found yourself struggling to keep going, despite your body being capable, you’ve encountered a mental block. These hurdles can be frustrating and demotivating, but they’re also an opportunity to grow stronger and more resilient. Today, I’m sharing my personal journey with running mental blocks and offering practical strategies to help you overcome them.

Understanding Running Mental Blocks

Mental blocks in running often stem from a combination of psychological and physical factors. They can appear as a sudden lack of motivation, overwhelming anxiety about a run, or persistent negative thoughts that sap your energy. Recognizing these blocks is the first step to overcoming them.

From my experience, mental blocks often arise due to:

  • Fear of Failure: Worrying about not meeting a goal can create a significant mental barrier. Putting pressure on myself to run a certain time!
  • Perfectionism: Striving for perfect performance can lead to anxiety and stress.
  • Fatigue: Both mental and physical exhaustion can contribute to a lack of motivation.
  • Negative Self-Talk: Doubting your abilities and engaging in negative thoughts can erode your confidence.

My Personal Journey 

I remember vividly my first major encounter with a mental block. I was training for my first marathon, and everything was going smoothly until I hit the 15-mile mark during a long run. Suddenly, doubts crept in. My legs felt heavier, my breath more laboured, and my mind kept telling me to stop. I began questioning my ability to finish the race, and that doubt turned into a full-blown mental block. How was I ever going to run another 11.2 miles?!!!!

Overcoming that block wasn’t easy, but it taught me valuable lessons about resilience, mental strength, and the importance of preparation. Here’s how I did it and how you can too.


Strategies to Overcome Running Mental Blocks

  1. Set Realistic Goals

Setting realistic and achievable goals can help manage expectations and reduce anxiety. Break down your larger goal into smaller, manageable milestones. For example, instead of focusing solely on running a marathon, set incremental goals like running a certain distance each week or improving your pace gradually.

Personal Tip: I found it helpful to set weekly goals, such as adding an extra mile to my long run or shaving a few seconds off my pace. These smaller victories kept me motivated and focused.

  1. Develop a Positive Mindset

Positive thinking can transform your running experience. Replace negative self-talk with affirmations and encouraging thoughts. When you find yourself thinking, “I can’t do this,” counter it with, “I am strong and capable.” My all time favourite running quote is from Steve Prefontaine – “To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift.”

Personal Tip: I started using mantras during my runs. Simple phrases like “One step at a time” or “I’ve got this” helped keep my mind focused and positive.

  1. Visualize Success

Visualization is a powerful tool used by many athletes. Spend a few minutes each day picturing yourself successfully completing your run. Imagine the feeling of strength and accomplishment as you cross the finish line.

Personal Tip: Before each long run, I would sit quietly and visualize the entire route, picturing myself running confidently and smoothly. This mental rehearsal made the actual run feel more manageable. Many will scoff at this, give it a try – it is surprisingly good.

  1. Practice Mindfulness

Mindfulness helps you stay present and manage anxiety. Pay attention to your breath, your stride, and the rhythm of your run. When negative thoughts arise, acknowledge them without judgment and gently bring your focus back to the present moment.

Personal Tip: During my runs, I practiced breath awareness. Counting my breaths and synchronizing them with my steps helped me stay centred and calm, especially during challenging parts of the run.

  1. Embrace the Discomfort

Running is inherently uncomfortable at times. Accepting this discomfort as part of the process can help you push through mental blocks. Instead of fearing the discomfort, embrace it as a sign of growth and progress.

Personal Tip: I reframed my perspective on discomfort. Instead of seeing it as a sign to stop, I began to view it as a challenge to overcome. This mindset shift made a significant difference in my ability to push through tough runs.       

  1. Create a Support System

Having a supportive network can provide encouragement and accountability. Whether it’s friends, family, or a running group, surrounding yourself with positive influences can help you stay motivated.

Personal Tip: Joining a local running club was one of the best decisions I made. The camaraderie and shared experiences provided much-needed support and motivation.

  1. Focus on the Process, Not Just the Outcome

Concentrate on the daily habits and practices that contribute to your running success, rather than fixating solely on the end goal. Enjoying the journey can make the process more enjoyable and less stressful.

Personal Tip: I began celebrating my daily efforts, like sticking to my training plan or eating well. This focus on the process made the entire journey more rewarding and less daunting.

  1. Learn from Setbacks

Setbacks are inevitable, but they are also opportunities for learning and growth. Analyse what went wrong, adjust your approach, and move forward with renewed determination. Not every training session will be good, learn from all your sessions, good and bad.

Personal Tip: After hitting a mental block, I would reflect on what triggered it. Understanding these triggers helped me develop strategies to prevent or manage them in the future.                                                                                   

  1. Incorporate Cross-Training

Cross-training can prevent burnout and keep your training interesting. Activities like cycling, swimming, or strength training can improve overall fitness and provide a mental break from running.

Personal Tip: Including yoga and strength training in my routine not only improved my physical endurance but also provided a mental reset, making my runs feel more enjoyable.

  1. Prioritize Rest and Recovery

Adequate rest and recovery are crucial for both physical and mental well-being. Ensure you’re getting enough sleep and incorporating rest days into your training schedule.

Personal Tip: I learned the hard way that overtraining leads to burnout. Listening to my body and allowing myself adequate rest days improved my overall performance and mental state. As I get older it has become even more important. I am looking to run for many years yet, so to maintain that longevity I need to run smarter.


Practical Exercises to Overcome Mental Blocks

In addition to the strategies above, here are some practical exercises that have helped me and can help you too:

Interval Training

Interval training involves alternating between high-intensity and low-intensity running. This type of training can improve your physical endurance and mental toughness by pushing you out of your comfort zone.

How to Do It:

  1. Warm-up for 10 minutes with easy jogging.
  2. Run at a high intensity for 1 minute.
  3. Jog or walk for 2 minutes.
  4. Repeat the cycle for 20-30 minutes.
  5. Cool down with a 10-minute jog.

Long Runs with Positive Reinforcement

During long runs, use positive reinforcement techniques to maintain a positive mindset. Set mini-goals throughout your run and reward yourself mentally for achieving them.

How to Do It:

  1. Divide your long run into segments (e.g., every 5 miles).
  2. After each segment, give yourself a mental pat on the back or a small physical reward (like a sip of your favorite sports drink).
  3. Focus on the achievement of each segment rather than the total distance.                                                                      >> FAST BOOST YOUR BRAIN HERE <<

Mindfulness Meditation

Incorporate mindfulness meditation into your routine to enhance your mental resilience. This practice can help you stay present and manage stress more effectively.

How to Do It:

  1. Find a quiet place and sit comfortably.
  2. Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths.
  3. Focus on your breath, feeling it flow in and out.
  4. When your mind wanders, gently bring your focus back to your breath.
  5. Practice for 5-10 minutes daily.

Real-Life Success Stories

Hearing about others’ experiences can be incredibly motivating. Here are a couple of real-life success stories from runners who overcame mental blocks:

John’s Story

John, a fellow runner from my local club, struggled with anxiety about his pace. He constantly compared himself to faster runners and felt demotivated. By setting personal goals, practicing mindfulness, and celebrating small victories, John shifted his focus from others to his own progress. He eventually completed his first marathon and felt a tremendous sense of achievement.


Emer’s Story

Emer faced a significant mental block after an injury. She doubted her ability to return to running and feared re-injury. Through positive self-talk, visualization, and a gradual return to training with cross-training, Sarah rebuilt her confidence. She not only returned to running but also completed a half-marathon, proving to herself that she could overcome adversity.


Overcoming running mental blocks is a journey that requires patience, self-compassion, and consistent effort. By setting realistic goals, developing a positive mindset, practicing mindfulness, and learning from setbacks, you can build the mental resilience needed to conquer these challenges.

Remember, every runner faces mental blocks at some point. What matters is how you respond to them. Embrace the journey, celebrate your progress, and keep moving forward. With the right strategies and mindset, you can overcome any mental hurdle and achieve your running goals.

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